Next Friday I will have lived on God's less and less green earth for fifty-eight years. I was born in 1953 in a US military hospital in Tripoli, Libya, the same hospital, I believe, President Reagan bombed in '86, purportedly killing Qaddafi's adopted daughter, at which time it was no longer a US hospital and I, of course, was long gone. For the first fourteen years of my life, I held dual citizenship, US and Libyan, only vaguely aware of that fact and, obviously, since I left the country at age nine months, with little feeling for the place. But with the Six Day War in '67, the Department of Defense insisted that I and other military dependents in my situation become "naturalized" citizens, in addition to only technically native-born, and "renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which [we] have heretofore been [subjects or citizens]." Besides the addition of three new words to my vocabulary, the day did little for me the private person, the only identity that mattered (matters) to me.
Last night I rode with a friend and work colleague to a departmental planning dinner at our boss's house in Raleigh. On the way we discussed the tsunami in Japan, the closeness of the moon, the coming again of the thirteen-year locusts, and some radio prophet who predicts that Jesus is coming back this May, perhaps in time for the premiere of Shania Twain's new reality show on the Oprah Winfrey Network. My friend is a devout Christian and Tea Party Republican. I am somewhat different than that. We do, however, share a keen taste for the apocalyptic. We were movie buddies for both 2012 and Zombieland a couple of years ago, and I lent her my dvd of When Worlds Collide and had to wait a good long while before I could pry it back out of her hands.
In the course of our conversation, I mentioned that a US serviceman in Japan, when I lived there, told me and some other military brats at Yokota Air Force Base, that Nostradamus predicted the end of the world would occur in 1968, which at the time was still in the future. Specifically, the sixteenth-century pharmacist had said that there would be "fireworks on Earth visible from the planet Mars." We kids were mesmerized and shaken by the news. Later, after 1968, in a Christian high school, my Americanism Versus Communism teacher assigned me and my classmates the project of creating a scrapbook called The Signs of the Times, in which we taped newspaper articles that correlated with biblical prophesies of the end times. Off the top of my head, I vaguely remember that my scrapbook contained news of volcanoes, riots, and a production of O Calcutta--the section on prophesied decadent sex in the latter days was the thickest and richest section of my finished project.
My understanding is that the world has been ending for quite a long time now. The early Christians believed it would happen in their own lifetimes. Jesus promised his disciples that they would live to see him returning in glory. The apostle Paul taught the Corinthians that there was not much point in marriage and procreation with the end of the world being right around the corner, but admonished those who couldn't keep their legs together for even that long that it is "better to marry than to burn." This is not to suggest that the world will never end, just that, like many of us, the world tends to procrastinate--and certainly quite a bit more than fundamentalist Christians think it should, its having taken approximately 3,799,800,000 years to create mankind in God's image, as opposed to the preferred six-day (E-Z drive-thru) version in Genesis. (More statistics and side note: the Google search terms "Obama Antichrist" produce 877,000 results in 0.08 seconds.)
Having now lived almost 58 years, I say that life is good, if seldom great and if often prone to fall on your head from time to time like a cheap cabin tent. According to Complexity Theory, the more complex things (including societies and hairdos) become, the more likely they are to collapse. I am not a good one for offering people hope. Things are bad right now. They look like they're getting worse. But I am not a fretter either. I believe we all need to do whatever we can do to make things better, if not altogether right. Feeling disturbed or anxious never fixed anything. In times like these, it helps to remind ourselves that we are mortal, that we are all in this thing together, that it will not kill us to show compassion and act mercifully. It perhaps neither helps nor hurts to write a letter to our democratically elected representatives in government from time to time. We will "get by" for as long as we can and then will no longer "get by." Over that eventuality, we have some--but so very very little--control.
At the end of his satirical novel Candide, inspired by witnessing a tidal wave hit Lisbon in 1755, Voltaire admonishes us, "We must cultivate our garden," an admonition towards unworried simplicity that I have followed religiously ever since I first read it. Or, as Jesus said, "[D]o not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (NIV, Matt. 6.34).
Amen. You can say that again. Duh.